Why Do We Say Namaste? The Greeting Science of Yoga

The literal meaning of Namaste. Image: Canva
Namaste British English Pronunciation by Macmillan Dictionary

Namaste is a formal greeting. It is used extensively in the Indian culture with an extremely diverse range of applications. You need to note that Namaste is very different from most other formal greetings, like saying, “Hi” or “Hello”. The greeting is the foremost application of Namaste, the hand gesture as a concept has a lot more depth and significance.

Namaste has its roots deep into the Indian Vedic cultures. It was thought of by people, who were experts in applied sciences and were holistic thinkers. Naturally, the process of Namaste has a significant degree of science and holisticism attached to it.

What Does Namaste Means?

An Indian word with heavy relevance to Hinduism will most often be traced back to the literary language of Hinduism i.e. Sanskrit. Namaste is derived from “Namah,” meaning “I bow,” and “te” meaning “to you.” Although the literal translation gives us, “I bow down to you,” there is an additional spiritual philosophy to the term that calls for a modification on the translation.

Vedic people believed firmly in divinity, and they further believed that there is a portion of the universal divinity within every living being on the planet. Namaste was built bearing in mind this notion, and thus the more appropriate translation reads as, “I bow the divine soul in me to the divine soul in you.” However, the internet is a wonderful place with a wonderful diversity, and when searched thoroughly it reveals many other wonderful translations:

  • I honour the place in you that is the same as it is in me
  • My soul recognizes your soul
  • I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy
  • When you and I bow to our true nature, we are one
  • We are the same, we are one
  • I honour the place in you where the entire universe dwells

Are Namaste and Namaskar the same?

anjali mudra in yoga
Namaskar is when when greeting a large group. Image: Canva

Although not as popular as Namaste, you must have heard another similar-sounding Indian greeting, Namaskar. So what’s the difference? The word Namaskar in a way refers to the act of Namaste, so the difference of notion isn’t much. However, it’s the instance of the application that varies.

Namaskar, or Namaskaram, is also derived from the word “Namah,” and the word, “kaara,” meaning doing. Thus Namaskaara means, “I pay my salutations of Namaste.” So while Namaste is saying, “I bow down to you,” Namaskaara would mean something like, “I am doing the act of bowing down to you.”

The main confusion lies with when to use which greeting. Although opinions may vary, ideally, Namaste is considered more of a one-on-one greeting. Whereas Namaskaara is used when greeting a group or large group of people. You will often find in Indian concerts and stage performances, the artist greets the audience with a Namaskaara, and not a Namaste.

What are the social implications of Namaste?

Doing namaste
Namaste social implications. Source: Giphy

Practicing Namaste on a regular basis, or better yet, making it a part of your lifestyle, will bring balance to your thoughts, intellect, emotions, and expressions. These benefits will bring monumental changes to your personality, changes that the people around you will find pleasant.

Namaste has a huge cultural history in India. This gesture has been a part of evolution for the people of the Indian subcontinent. For hundreds and thousands of years, Namaste has been a symbol of respect, humility, and spirituality. 

Naturally, the very visual sight of this gesture strikes a harmonious note in our mind; having a positive affinity towards Namaste is embedded deep into the genetics of Indian people. Thus comfortably including Namaste in your lifestyle and habits, will make the Indian society around you more welcoming and receptive towards you.

Scientific significance

anjali mudra left right union
Namaste means union of opposite energies. Image: Canva

The social implication of Namaste is what gets the prominent reputation in the modern world. However, this hand gesture is an integral aspect of the yogic sciences. In fact, Namaste has its origin in yogic sciences. It was the scientific logic behind this gesture that made it popular for daily usage, and over time positive social implications got attached to it.

In yoga, Namaste is actually a mudra called the Anjali Mudra. The mudra where you join the palms of your hands together, close the gap between your fingers, point your fingers upward and press your palms to close toward your body.

So if you notice simply joining your palm is not Namaste, but it is the Anjali mudra. When this Anjali mudra is performed in front of your forehead, throat, or chest, it is called Namaste. In terms of physiology, our hands have innumerous nerve endings and pressure points which are used in reflexology. These nerve endings and pressure points are critical to the energies that flow within our body.

The energies that flow within us have two polar extremes. We use different names for these extremes, positive and negative, yin and yang, masculine and feminine, prana and Apana, sattva and tamas, and so on. These polar opposites reside in the two hemispheres of our body, the left, and the right. As we join the nerve endings of the two polar opposite hemispheres, in the Namaste mudra, we establish a unity of the opposites. This unity generates multiple benefits for physical and mental health.

Spiritual significance

Every form of creation has sprung out from the source where all the universal forces unite. And as such, there is a trace of these forces in every creation in the forms of different energies. The whole purpose of spirituality is to draw a harmony between all the flowing energies in our body and being one with the universal source of all creations. 

This source is not immediately perceivable by human senses. But if we can learn to align our internal energies into perfect harmony, we will be able to feel that source; after all, every creation has an intuitive connection with its source of creation.

The Namaste mudra is one of the most proven (in yogic practices) tools to establish harmony among all our internal energies. The practice of Namaste is something highly recommended for spiritual pursuits.

When It Is Used in Yoga?

Namaste uses in yoga
Namaste in yoga. Source: Yoga Peace GIF By Adidas Giphy

Namaste is one of the popular Sanskrit words among the yogis’ community that very often used during and after a yoga session.

When an instructor arrives in yoga class, before chanting the opening prayer, the instructor welcomes the class with Namaste in a sitting or standing posture. Regular students in a yoga class also use Namaste to start their first conversation of the day while humbly bowing in front of each other.

Moreover, Namaste is used at the end of a yoga session after the Savasana ends. On gently rubbing palms, a Namaste gesture is made keeping hands on the forehead center. It’s meant to balance all the energies that take place during the practice.

In Asanas Practice

Namaste as Anjali Mudra is very often used in different asanas and meditation practices during a yoga session. You can practice the Namaste while in any sitting posture or standing in Tadasana, Vrikshasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana or Vajrasana. These are just a few examples but you can practice Namaste in any pose, that keeps your hands free.

  • At the beginning: Every yoga pose has a particular physical and mental requirement. The namaste mudra brings the energies of your body in harmony, which prepares your muscles and nerves for the tension they are about to face. The Namaste pose with deep breathing before a posture will help enhance your blood flow, increase oxygen intake and stimulate your neural pathways. Practically, warming up your body for the pose.
  • During the hold: During any hold of a pose, Namaste triggers and stimulates a lot of biological benefits for different specific body organs and muscle groups. During the pose hold, the Namaste mudra will open up the concerned energy gateways and regulate an unfettered flow of energy.
  • At the end: Practicing Namaste Mudra at the end of a yoga pose is particularly effective in normalizing your mind and body. Each pose creates turbulence of energies in your body. Which further leads to the disruption of normal flow, to mechanisms like blood flow, hormonal activities, lymphatic movements, and so on. The Namaste mudra after a pose relaxes your body, by harmonizing the turbulent energies and restoring all bodily mechanisms to their regular pace.

The correct way of doing Namaste

Apart from practicing Namaste at different phases of the posture, there is also certain concern and confusion, related to hand positioning. Especially since different cultures and different practices portray different hand placement. However, note that this difference is not nearly random, but absolutely systematic.

  • Namaste in front of your forehead: Raise your hands to the height of your forehead, and join the palms of your hands, right in front of your forehead. Keep your elbow joints at the height of your shoulders. Don’t press your palms hard, but gently keep them held against each other. Do keep any space between your fingers, and keep them straight pointed upward. The middle of our palms have a slight depression, and this region will create a gap within the join of your hands. Maintain this gap.
  • Namaste in front of your throat: For this Namaste, everything remains the same from the previous instructions, except your hands come down in front of your throat. And your elbow joints come down to the level of your chest.
  • Namaste in front of your chest: Once again all instructions remain the same, except your hands come down in front of your breastbone and your elbow joints come down to the level of your abdomen. In this gesture, alternatively, you can keep your elbows parallel to the ground by maintaining your elbow joints at your chest level.

What changes will Namaste bring to your life?

The practice of Namaste brings many physical, mental, emotional, and personality changes. Rest assured these changes will prove to be positive and beneficial in your life. Although you must not expect any overnight changes. Mudras make many subtle energy tweaks all over your body, that over time build up to draw prominent changes. So you must be patient and dedicated.

1. Namaste harnesses the power of awareness

When you perform Namaste in front of your forehead, you consequently flood your third eye or the pineal chakra with harmonious energy flow. Your pineal gland plays an elemental role in awareness, concentration, perception, and cognition. Namaste gesture ensures that there is an unobstructed and harmonious energy flow in your neural pathways. With regular practice of Namaste, you could realize that this is a gesture that harnesses the power of awareness.

2. Namaste enhances the ability to communicate

When you perform Namaste in front of your throat, you activate your throat chakra. The chakra is responsible for your vocal communication. Namaste gestures improve the energy flow to your vocal apparatuses, muscles, and nerves. The gesture will also help you develop the concentration needed to form your thoughts and the intellect to convert them into words. When the namaste is performed in front of the throat, while sitting in an easy pose, and chanting Om, it can help you cure infections and disorders related to the Ear, Nose, and Throat region. It will also give you great control over your vocal muscles, as such, over your voice and tone.

3. Namaste for a better cardiovascular and respiratory function

Practicing Namaste pose in front of the breastbone activates the Anahata chakra. When you practice the Namaste pose in front of your breastbone, while standing in the mountain pose or tree pose, it has the potential to improve your blood flow. An improved blood flow can cure a long list of cardiovascular disorders, and as such, improve your cardiovascular functions in general. On another hand, when you sit in an easy pose, take deep breaths and perform the Namaste gesture in front of your chest, it improves the oxygen management in your lungs.

4. Namaste is the go-to gesture for spirituality

When you practice the Kailash mudra variant of the Anjali mudra, it will stimulate your cranial chakra. Your cranial chakra is your gateway to the universal energies outside your physical existence. This gesture is a highly meditative gesture, that will help you enter a state of samadhi, or total absorption.

5. Namaste balances your polar extremes

The very basic concept of Namaste is to bring balance to the opposite energies in your body. Namaste, all of its variants, will effectively help you attain a balance between the feminine and masculine energies within you. If your emotion is a feminine energy, your logic is masculine. And in every situation of life you will need equal measures of both logic and emotion. 

Another similar example is the balance of imagination and discipline, where imagination is a feminine force and discipline is masculine. And as it happens for any creation, you will need a fair amount of both imagination and discipline. Namaste will help you succeed in different spheres of life by establishing a balance between your feminine and masculine energies.

Conclusion

Namaste in a social setting is mostly practiced as a greeting rather than a spiritual practice. The spiritual practice is mostly limited to yogic cultures and ritualistic ceremonies. In a social setting, Namaste can be a way of greeting strangers formally, in a polite and humble tone.

Namaste is also a gesture that is used to show respect and gratitude to elders, teachers, and mentors. Finally, Namaste can also represent a gesture of request. When you request with a Namaste gesture, it shows honesty and sincerity in your intentions.

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